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Live review: Black Keys at the Hollywood Palladium

September 29, 2010 |  5:23 pm

In 2010, when the predominant mood in pop and indie corners alike is to coax vintage synths into making compositions chillier than Ian Curtis' River Thames, what's a nouveau garage band like Black Keys to do? How do they make the distinct pleasures of a guitarist and drummer, a pleasure that feels nostalgic like cotton candy at the county fair, still fresh?

Part of their approach, it turns out, is in warmth and refinement. They may reside in the garage, but a stylish one worthy of inclusion on The Selby. At the final entry of their two-night stand Tuesday night at the Hollywood Palladium, a crowd of attentive fans got to take in the Black Keys at both ends of their spectrum. From Dan Auerbach's guitar, we got either molten flow or neatly combed-out arpeggios -- and lots of tonal beauty in between.

For the earlier part of the Black Keys' career, starting as it did in the flush of the garage rock revival that launched the Strokes and White Stripes, they focused on that molten glob of guitar prowess and the merciless crack of Patrick Carney's drums. But the band's latest album, "Brothers," recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., finds the duo operating in a sumptuously articulate mode, their songwriting more structured and thoughtful than ever. This developing sophistication transferred well live but with a few slip-ups.

If you just wanted the salt-lick simplicity of blues rumble and grumble, the Akronites were delivering: "Strange Times," from 2008's "Attack and Release," was so sludgy in parts it was hard to raft across. The band's 2002 song "I'll Be Your Man" fared better from Auerbach's burnished tone.

Joined early in the set by Nick Movshon on bass and Leon Michels on keyboard (or mini-organ, as it mostly sounded), the Black Keys set into their new work with inventive focus. The falsetto-laden groove of "Everlasting Light" was a particular standout (the video above is from their New York performance but still captures it). Auerbach's top guitar line was so juicy yet light, it was like one of those gastronomic foam concoctions made famous by chef Ferrán Adrià. In response, Auerbach's vocals were a little softer, more raw.

The only misstep, for the ears that take solace in Carney's pressurized beats, was in "Sinister Kid," the first song of the band's encore and one of the most effective cuts on "Brothers." On record, "Sinister Kid" is a piston-fisted featherweight boxer not to be trifled with. The drums and the bass line shift roles between predator and prey while Auerbach swaggers through, sounding as if he's enjoying the pursuit from the devil a little too much.

But in concert, the band loosened the song's rhythmic strut to the point of sacrificing the song's sly wit. All the same, even when a little slack-jawed, the pleasures offered by the Black Keys are as resolute as ever, a fiery hearth in a lovingly weathered shack.

-- Margaret Wappler

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